I’ve recently moved from one apartment to another one only two blocks away. The funny thing is that it has left me completely discombobulated. I leave the house improperly dressed for the weather because I have no idea where the hats, scarves and gloves are. I’ve fallen behind in several tasks and generally just feel a bit ‘out of it’.
This started me thinking about what families with a child on the spectrum most likely experience when moving. Many children with autism are disrupted by change and any variations in the daily routine can dramatically impact their level of functioning. It would be important when moving, like most predictable events, to prepare your child ahead of time. I only have one first hand experience working with a family who moved. It went pretty smoothly because they were relocating in the same city and had family close by where therapy could take place while the new apartment was being set up. Additionally, this particular child is pretty easy going and isn’t as bothered by change as many of my other students. However, I have a feeling that this is the exception to the rule rather than the norm.
Clearly, all children are different and this should be taken into consideration when preparing them for the move but in general there are some things to consider for all children. I would suggest the following ways to try and lessen the stress and help facilitate a smoother transition.
Prepare your child for the move. – This one goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway. Just because you think your child might not conceptually understand a discussion about moving doesn’t mean you can’t begin to prepare them for the change. There are many great children’s books about moving and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start reading these together several weeks before you move. You can create social stories about what changes can be expected and even talk about some of the “what if’s” that can be encountered when moving. If you are moving within the same city or town you can become familiar with the new neighborhood before hand by going to the new playgrounds or any other place you might frequent. If you are not able to visit the new places you can put pictures of them in a photo book to review and discuss. You can also count down the days until the move on a calendar so that the arrival of the actual day is predictable.
Keep the schedule the same as much as possible. – This is always a safe starting place when unsure about how your child might react to change. Whether a holiday or moving to a new apartment if you’re able to keep the schedule the same it will make everyone’s life a little easier. It might also be helpful to reintroduce a visual schedule for a few weeks surrounding the move if you don’t have one in place already.
Keep favorite and comforting items accessible. – If there is a particular toy or item that plays a critical role in your child’s ability to self soothe when upset you will want to make sure you know where it is during the move. The location will be changing but you want to make sure that it still feels like home by having familiar items available. It is also a good idea to have the child’s room set up in a similar way in the new house so there isn’t too much of an adjustment in their personal space. This isn’t a good time to update furniture or purge old toys as you will want to keep things as similar as possible.
Use Positive Reinforcement. – Moving is one giant transition but you can be sure that within that there will be a lot of little transitions and adjustments too. It’s important to not lose sight of any success your child experiences with these smaller transitions up until and even after the move. When your child transitions smoothly REINFORCE it! Reserve a favorite toy or snack as reinforcement for transitions so that it remains powerful and meaningful to the child. Even if these are transitions that no longer require reinforcement you can use it as an opportunity to emphasize their ability to transition and remind them up the upcoming move.
What is your personal experience with moving? Were there things that were crucial to your child transitioning smoothly? Are there things you tried that you would do differently if you had to move again? What tips would you share with other families who are preparing to move? We would love to hear your story!